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Francesco MORLACCHI (1784-1841)
Tebaldo e Isolina (1822-1825) melodramma romantico in two acts
Boemondo – Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani (tenor); Isolina – Sandra Pastrana (soprano); Tebaldo – Laura Polverelli (mezzo-soprano); Ermanno – Raśl Baglietto (bass-baritone); Geroldo – Gheorge Vlad (tenor); Clemenza- Annalisa D’Agosto (soprano)
Camerata Bach Choir, Poznań, Virtuosi Brunensis/Antonino Fogliani.
rec. 25 and 27 July 2014, Trinkhalle, Bad Wildbad, Germany for the XXIV Rossini in Wildbad Festival
The Italian libretto is accessible online
NAXOS 8.660471-72 [78:11 + 64:47]

The Naxos company’s continued association with the Rossini Festival in Bad Wilbad has produced a series of well over 20 recordings, mostly by Rossini but also a few of his contemporaries. These recordings are notably consistent in the vitality and enthusiasm of the musicians. If the overall achievement of the singing is not quite as consistent, it usually results in a recording that is greater than the sum of its parts. No small part of this is due to the excellent leadership of the Festival’s music director Antonino Fogliani. His leadership of the Czech orchestra, the Virtuosi Brunensis and the Polish choir is one of the consistently excellent features of each release.

This new recording is a rare work from composer Francesco Morlacchi. His name was hitherto known to me only as an anecdote in that he is one of the other composers who wrote an alternative version of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. This was my first opportunity to encounter one of his compositions. Morlacchi had the great good fortune to receive a lifetime appointment as Royal Kapellmeister for the Italian opera in Dresden. This security meant that, unlike his other more famous contemporaries, he was not required to travel Europe peddling his compositions in order to survive. In doing a bit of research, I can find names for 22 operas that he wrote; at least seven of them were written for Italy as was this one. This CD issue was also its first performance in modern times. Tebaldo e Isolina was written in 1822 for the last of the megastar castrati, Giovanni Battista Velluti who starred in the premiere in Venice.

Velluti had the unique distinction among the castrati of having operas composed for him by the most promising composers of the early 19th century. Rossini, wrote Aureliano in Palmira in 1813 and Meyerbeer wrote his massive Il Crocciato in Egitto in 1824, which was the final opera of his early Italian period. These two operas have achieved more than one particularly fine CD recording on both the Naxos and Opera Rara labels respectively and are well worth seeking out, as are the releases on DVD. The Venetian premiere of Tebaldo was such a success that he brought it back home to Dresden where he recomposed it somewhat for a coloratura contralto. That 1825 edition is the version used on this recording.

Morlacchi was personally acquainted with both Rossini and Carl Maria von Weber. The booklet states that his music is thought to resemble the style of the older Neapolitan school of opera composition.  This would be composers such as Mayr, Mosca, and Paer.  For those who are curious, there is an excellent overview of this period that was put out some years ago on the Opera Rara label called A Hundred years of Italian Opera 1800 to 1810. This 3 CD set is well worth investigating or streaming to get a sense of what these operas sounded like. On listening to the present recording, I find Morlacchi’s compositional style to lie somewhat between Rossini and the early works of Meyerbeer’s Italian years. Morlacchi does not aim for the frenetic largesse of Rossini but rather a more classically restrained type of virtuosity. This is coupled with a wonderful Weber-like orchestral palette.  Time and again while listening, I would expect the orchestral accompaniment to travel along the traditional paths of the romantic bel canto repertoire only to be surprised when the instrumental line would travel in a different and unexpected direction. His vocal writing is always attractive and has some rhythmic vitality, but doesn’t necessarily remain imprinted in the memory as so much of Rossini does.

The story of the opera concerns a conflict among the German nobility during the Middle Ages. Tebaldo is a cousin to Romeo Capulet with the difference that his identity is disguised until late in Act 2. The plot ends happily for all as there is no true villain in this story.

The Bad Wilbad Festival is similar to the Wexford Festival in that it mostly engages very young singers who are at the beginning their careers. This has benefits in the youthful freshness of sound but also sometimes creates issues with techniques that are not fully developed. In such elaborate bel canto roles, the microphones can really spotlight such shortcomings. This cast of singers are a reasonably adept group. The very experienced mezzo, Laura Polverelli sings Tebaldo with both virtuosity and style once she gets pasts a few patches of cloudy tone in her entrance aria. Spanish soprano Sandra Pastrana has a forwardly placed voice which she uses extremely well. She deftly negotiates the coloratura and she certainly has a sense of personality in her voice which has no doubt strengthened in the six years since this recording was made. Had I been there at the time, I might have suggested that she should not spend too much time in the highest range of her voice as it is not a comfortable place for her and her vocal riches lie a few notes lower. Anicio Giustiniani has the makings of a true tenore di grazia, as he is blessed with a lovely clean, fresh-sounding tone that needs a little more development in the highest range. Among the best pieces in the opera is a wonderful duet for father and son near the end of Act 1; Giustiniani and Polverelli give a captivating account of it. Raśl Baglietto who sings the bass role of Isolina’s father has a smooth, plush vocal quality but he needs to sing his phrases with much more authority in order to make an impact. Antonio Foglianini does his usual excellent job leading the proceedings with the Virtuosi Brunensis and the Camerata Bach Choir of Poznan maintaining their usual high standard of performance.

The engineers of the SWR have done a truly wonderful job at capturing the acoustic of the Trinkhalle in Bad Wilbad. The sound is immediate and yet perfectly balanced by a feeling of spaciousness behind it that doesn’t call too much attention to itself. There is moderate applause throughout, which is never intrusive.  After hearing this recording, I am quite tempted to investigate Morlacchi’s version of Il Barbiere di Siviglia, as there is a still-obtainable release on the Bongiovanni label. Incidentally the booklet notes are excellent but Naxos retains the continuing oddity of using a photograph of the choir which shows only 11 men for what is obviously a much larger mixed choir. Naxos has been using this same photograph for years now and it is long past time to give redress to the female members of the choir.

Mike Parr

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